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South Sudan’s Holdout Rebel Groups Resume Talks in Rome

FILE- South Sudanese former rebel soldiers stand to attention at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Thursday, April 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason Patinkin)

BOR — South Sudan's holdout rebel groups are attending a week of talks with government officials mediated by a Catholic association in Rome, marking the resumption of negotiations after the government suspended its participation last year.

The National Salvation Front led by General Thomas Cirilo Swaka, the South Sudan United Front led by General Paul Malong Awan and the Real Sudan People's Liberation Movement led by Pagan Amum are among the groups attending the talks facilitated by the Community of Sant'Egidio.

South Sudan’s Minister for Presidential Affairs Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who is heading the government delegation at the talks, said the administration of President Salva Kiir is serious about moving the country forward on the road to peace.

“I presented the opening remarks where I expressed the commitment of the government to see that peace comes to the people of South Sudan through our dialogue with the non-signatories. The commitment of his excellency the president, the government and the people of South Sudan cannot be over emphasized, that we are ready for peace in order to accommodate our brothers and sisters in the opposition,” he said.

Benjamin said the government is committed to reaching an agreement at the talks.

Pagan Amum, spokesperson for the holdout groups, issued a statement Wednesday saying the talks will focus on the root causes of the 2013 and 2016 conflicts and how to achieve an inclusive peace deal in South Sudan.

Garang Malual, spokesperson of the South Sudan United Front led by the former head of South Sudan's army, confirmed to VOA's South Sudan in Focus that the opposition coalition and other rebel groups are attending the talks.

“The groups who are here right now in the talks are SSUF-led by General Paul Malong Awan, the other one is Real SPLM led Pagan Amum and there is one NASS led by Thomas Cirilo. The talk is still on, therefore what is being discussed will be clearer by tomorrow not today,” Malual said.

Benjamin said the talks will pick up from where negotiations left off when the government suspended its participation in November 2022.

“We have signed the Rome agreement, the Rome Declaration and the Rome resolutions and the cessation of hostilities of 2017 of which there was commitment on all sides and also the declaration of principles in which there were 13 points to be discussed which we had initialed before the talks were actually suspended. Now we are going to proceed from that process,” Marial said.

During his visit to South Sudan early last month, Pope Francis urged the leaders to put aside their differences and bring lasting peace to the country.

South Sudan’s government had pulled out of negotiations last year citing a lack of commitment from opposition groups.

Talks between the government and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, which refused to sign the 2018 revitalized peace deal that ended fighting between forces loyal to the president and vice president, have failed in the past.